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Understanding Your Users: Thinking Outside Your Head and Inside Theirs

Posted by in Conversion Optimisation

An important skill to foster when doing business online is the ability to look at your product/service through the eyes of your customers, but this is more difficult than it sounds. Without being able to observe and experience the usual physical interactions as you might in a normal store, how do you respond to your customers’ behaviours and plan for future trends in these behaviours?

It’s a complicated affair which could benefit with mastery in psychology and sociology and a little ESP wouldn’t hurt either. One method which is a little more accessible to us all is to use ‘personas’. The use of personas in design goes back to early 1980’s where a pioneering software inventor, Alan Cooper, started to observe and interview potential users of his software and to build products that served them and not the other way around. He watched them work, defined their typical day, and observed how they interacted with computers and how computers integrated with the rest of their lives in order to create valuable and functional programs.

Nowadays it’s been coined as ‘goal-directed design’ and Cooper has written many books on the topic. Kim Goodwin, Director of Design at Cooper, speaks about why they use this method in their design process:

“We use personas because they are powerful design, measurement, and communication tools. We use them in design to help us avoid the elastic user problem–where “the user” is a total novice one minute and a technophile the next–as well as self-referential design, because designers are seldom representative of a product’s target audience. Personas also help cut through assumptions that certain tasks are necessary; if a task doesn’t directly help accomplish a goal, we can try to eliminate it. We use personas in scenarios to help us refine and test the design at the whiteboard, which lets us involve a “user” long before you’d be able to do a usability test. Personas help us communicate with each other and with our clients. It’s easy to explain and justify design decisions when they’re based on persona goals as well as solid design principles.”

Click here for a great little cartoon on how you can benefit from this method specific to web design. This technique is also very applicable when writing content for a website. If your website is not performing as well as you’d like,  perhaps you need to consider these aspects of conversion optimisation more closely.

Other important questions to ask yourself in order to make your site more applicable and therefore more valuable to your potential customers are:

  • Who are the users of the website?
  • What are the users’ tasks and goals?
  • What are the users’ experience levels with the website, and websites like it?
  • What functions do the users need from the website?
  • What information might the users need, and in what form do they need it?
  • How do users think the website should work?

Whether you are designing a brand new site or simply creating a small blog post like this one, by putting yourself the mind of your typical customer and designing to their personality type could completely change the way you view your business.

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